The North West Counties Football League note the Football Association's decision to place Bury AFC and FC Isle of Man within the National League System, with these being placed in the First Division North and First Division South respectively.
We would firstly like to welcome both clubs to the league. We are sure that both clubs and their supporters will be welcomed warmly throughout all three divisions of the league and we look forward to working with both clubs over the coming seasons.
We would though like to make it clear that this decision was made against the wishes of the League Management Committee and the Board of Directors. This statement outlines the reasons for this and what our stance is as a league.
Usually a club can only enter the NLS at Step 7. However, a League may seek approval from the Committee to receive a club not currently in membership of a League within the NLS provided that there are:
Both Bury AFC and FC Isle of Man opted to apply to join the National League System for the 2020/21 season, and as they are in our geographical area, they asked for our support. We met with both clubs and were supportive of their applications to the FA.
Since then though, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and with it Steps 3-7 of the pyramid were declared null and void. The FA then announced that there would be no promotion and relegation, including no promotions from Step 7. When football resumes at our level, we will be effectively replaying the 2020/21 season.
Given this, we felt as a league that it was appropriate to review our support for applications of the two new clubs. In order to maintain the integrity of our competition, the Board took the decision to withdraw support for the two applications. We informed the FA accordingly of this on Monday 22nd June 2020.
The reason for this was twofold. Firstly no promotion and relegation meant that there was no vacancies in our League. Secondly we felt that we needed to be fair to all clubs, especially those in Step 7 who, like the two new clubs, have invested a considerable amount of time and money in attempting to gain promotion, only to be denied through no fault of their own as a result of COVID-19.
We were subsequently asked by the FA to have urgent discussion with them, and members of our board met remotely with the FA Leagues Committee Chairman and the Head of the National League System on Friday 3rd July 2020.
It was outlined to us that vacancies would be made in our league by the FA agreeing with two lateral movement requests that had been made. One of these was only made in June when NLS Regulations state that requests must be made by 31st March 2020. We were requested to reconsider our position in respect of supporting the applications of Bury AFC and FC Isle of Man.
The League Board do not consider that in our case lateral movement is appropriate, imperative or in any real need as at the time, there were no vacancies within the League. Laterally moving clubs to make room for the two new clubs questions the integrity of the FA Leagues Committee and that of our Competition. It is also grossly unfair on the Step 7 clubs who were likely to meet the grading and promotion criteria.
Furthermore, the League Board do not consider it correct to move clubs just to create vacancies for the benefit of new clubs. The League Board when considering the applications of Bury AFC and FC Isle of Man always made it clear that the support was ONLY IF vacancies occurred once promotion and relegation issues had been settled as per NLS Rules and Regulations. Those vacancies were expected due to the re-structure of the NLS but not guaranteed. As the restructure has been put on hold until the end of next season, those vacancies no longer existed.
After our meeting with the FA, the Board took the weekend to reconsider our position. However the League’s Board voted to support its original decision to withdraw their support for the new applicant clubs, and on the morning of Monday 6th July 2020, we informed the FA of our decision. We have heard nothing since this date until this afternoon (Tuesday 21st July 2020), when we have been informed of the final decision to place Bury AFC and FC Isle of Man within our league.
It is noted that since the meeting with The FA, the League has received the resignation of FC Oswestry Town which did create one vacancy. Please note that this was not the case when the Board made its original decision.